A day in Fairbanks: Activities run from dawn till dusk

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Fairbanks is sometimes called the City of Lights. And though youd never confuse it with Paris, the City of Light, the moniker isnt off-base for this city of about 32,000 planted in the center of the state. Fairbanks takes advantage of near 24-hour sun during the summer, and it boasts one of the best places to view the dancing lights of the aurora borealis in the fall and winter.

You can see a lot of what Fairbanks has to offer within a day or two, though of course you can stay longer and use it as a gateway to one of its neighbors -- what locals call the rest of the 175,000 square miles that make up Alaskas Interior.

I traveled to Fairbanks two days after the summer solstice, and even when the sun sets it never gets dark (getting up at sunrise means arising at 3 a.m.) Heres a sample itinerary of a summer day in Fairbanks:

8:30 a.m.:Paddlewheel up the Chena River. The Riverboat Discovery cruises start early (folks are advised to turn up a half-hour before the boat ride begins), but complimentary coffee and doughnuts are served on the three-and-a-half-hour cruise up the Chena River. The Riverboat Discovery floats down the Chena River in Fairbanks. Some of the things youll see: the confluence of the Chena and Tanana rivers, a fish camp, a dog-mushing demonstration and the Chena Indian Village, where guides will take you on a tour and explain native Athabascan culture. The river tour is reprised at 2 p.m., for visitors who slept in. For more information, visit www.discoverytradingpost.com or call (907) 479-6673.

Another company, Greatland River Tours, offers evening sightseeing and dinner cruises on the Tanana Chief riverboat. For more information, call (907) 452-8687 or visit www.greatlandrivertours.com.

1 p.m.: Mining. Theres gold in them thar hills! Gold Dredge No. 8 was one of eight giant dredging machines, and it shook, lumbered and collected gold until 1959. Today its owned by Holland America Line and put to good use as a tourist destination. Visitors get to pan for gold at the end of the tour.

This is a good place to hit at lunch, since some tours include miners stew and biscuits in the mess hall. For more information, call (907) 457-6058 or visit www.golddredgeno8.com.

The nearby El Dorado mine also is open to the public, and tours begin at 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays. At the El Dorado, visitors ride a replica train from the Tanana Valley Railroad into a permafrost tunnel where a guide shows how gold was mined from the walls. Gold panning also is included, as are cookies and coffee. For more information call (907) 479-6673 or visit www.eldoradogoldmine.com.

3 p.m.: The Trans-Alaska oil pipeline. One of Alaskas landmarks, the pipeline carries oil from Prudhoe Bay in the Arctic Ocean to Valdez, the northernmost ice-free port in North America. Since its construction in 1977, the pipeline has moved more than 15 billion barrels of oil.

In Fairbanks, the pipeline runs aboveground, and you can walk right up to it -- and underneath it -- at a viewing area north of the city. Take the Steese Expressway northbound, and the viewing station will be on your right.

A small exhibit set up near the pipeline explains how the pipeline works. The support system allows the pipes to shift in case of an earthquake; if you walk underneath the pipe, you can see notches made in the supports that show how far the pipe has moved during recent earthquakes.

4 p.m.: Museum of the North. The museum is finishing a long-term expansion, and the dramatic new wing designed by architect Joan Sorrano is meant to evoke glaciers, ice and snow.

This is a great place to kick off your visit to Alaska, since you can get an overview of the state by walking through the Gallery of Alaska. The gallery highlights natural and cultural differences in Alaskas geographic regions -- how the Interior, for example, is different from the Southeast, and how native Yupik traditions differ from those of the Tlingit. A must-see is Blue Babe, a 36,000-year-old, mummified steppe bison.

Visit www.uaf.edu/museum or call (907) 474-7505 for hours, rates and information about new exhibits. This spring the museum will open The Place Where You Go to Listen, a sound and light exhibit by John Luther Adams that is inspired by daylight and darkness, lunar phases, the aurora and seismic activity.

7 p.m.: Dinner. Restaurants like Pikes Landing at Pikes Lodge or the Pump House have al fresco, riverfront dining, great for those long summer nights (temps in Fairbanks can climb into the 80s but bring a sweater, just in case). The Pump House menu runs the gamut from Alaskan salmon, halibut and king crab to reindeer and wild musk ox. In the nearby town of Fox, the Turtle Club restaurant is known for its prime rib.

11 p.m.: Golf. The sun hasnt yet set, and for some reason youre feeling as awake as you were at noon. Might as well go for a round of golf. 

This is not necessarily your stuffy, members-only golfing: In the summer golfers can reserve midnight tee times. North Star Golf Club says on its Web site, www.northstargolf.com, that it may be the only golf course that includes a wildlife checklist on its scorecard.

On the Fairbanks Golf and Country Club site, www.fairbanksgolf.com, it says: Cant sleep at night? Neither can we! Both places offer you 18 holes, club rental and a cart for around $60. For North Star, call (907) 457-4653. For Fairbanks Golf and Country Club, call (907) 479-6555.

To contact Rebecca Tobin, managing editor of the print edition of Travel Weekly, send e-mail to [email protected].

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